Canyoneering (or “Canyoning”) is the sport of exploring canyons using a variety of techniques such as scrambling, climbing, rappelling, wading and swimming.  The term is most often used to describe technical descents requiring ropes, harnesses, and other specialized gear. Like climbs, canyons can vary widely in level of difficulty:  ranging from the easy hike-through variety to the extremely technical. Dry canyons are significantly easier in terms of rigging and preparation compared to those with flowing water.  The more water that’s present, the more difficult the canyon becomes. This class will focus primarily on local aquatic canyons in the Pacific Northwest.

Course Information & Format

The Mazama Canyoneering class takes place over approximately two months. The class includes five lectures, held at the Mazama Mountaineering Center, and two field sessions; locations TBD.

The class typically accepts 20–30 students. 

2022 Class Information

Prerequisites

This is NOT a beginner class. Participants should be familiar with basic principles of anchor building, belaying, rappelling, rope management, wilderness navigation, first aid, and also be a competent swimmer. Participants must be able to build an anchor and safely execute a basic rappel without supervision.

There will be a required Skills Pre-Screening. You MUST attend one of the two sessions, dates are 5/9 or 5/12 from 6-8pm at the Mazama Mountaineering Center.

You will be tested on the following skills:

  • Familiarity with your climbing gear (please bring to the prescreen session). This should include harness, helmet, personal pro, and belay device
  • Tie in to climbing rope with a rewoven figure 8
  • Climb to the top of the Mazama climbing wall (apx. 25')
  • Transition to a rappel at the top of the wall (this must include the use of personal pro, safety checks, and verbal commands)
  • Rappel down (using any device you are familar with)
  • Stop mid rappel and adjust speed mid rappel 
  • Perform a fireman belay

Required Skills include:

  • Common knots used in technical systems
  • How to belay
  • How to rappel
  • Rope management
  • Anchor building

 

  • Being an active participant on a team
  • Familiarity with mechanical advantage systems
  • Backcountry navigation
  • Wilderness first aid

Canyoneering Details & History

Today, canyoneering is practiced all over the world, although it is most well known in Europe and the United States. In North America, its most commonly associated with the famous slot canyons of the Colorado Plateau, although it’s also practiced in the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada, Arizona, British Columbia, Mexico, Hawaii, and here in the Cascade Range. With one of the greatest concentrations of waterfalls in the world, canyoneering is a natural fit for the Pacific Northwest.

While there are many similarities between canyoneering and climbing, the two are unique sports with unique techniques and hazards.  Experienced climbers may find their skills do not translate entirely to the canyon world; there’s a lot more to learn.

Canyoneering involves:

  • Anchor creativity
  • Rapid-fire single strand rappels
  • Rappelling down waterfalls
  • Hard starts & dealing with overhangs.
  • Rappelling in confined spaces
  • Rappelling with packs

 

  • Landing in deep pools (too deep to stand)
  • Swimming & dealing with current
  • Cold temperatures (many creeks stay cold all year round)
  • Bushwhacking to remote areas

Water adds a new variable to the rappel equation, and water protection will likely be required for both the canyoneer and their gear. Canyons may require bushwhacking into remote rugged areas and thus requires a high level of self-sufficiency.  Some canyons are extremely committing.  Once you pull your rope down on the first rappel, you may be committing yourself to the entire descent.

Course Details

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Tuition

$350/members & $400/nonmembers

Tuition Assistance and payment plans are available. The application for assistance is built into the course application process. Tutition includes the purchase of Canyoning in the Pacific Northwest: A Technical Resource by Kevin Clark.

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Skills Taught
  • Planning an Outing
  • Canyon Hazards
  • Appropriate Gear & Water Protection
  • Leave No Trace & Canyon Ethics
  • Rappel Technique & Situational Awareness
  • Signals & Communication
  • Single Rope Technique
  • Why two-strand rappels are dangerous in canyons with significant water.
  • Why the ATC is not a good rappel device in canyons with significant water.
  • Rope Blocks & Setting the Length
  • Rigging for contingency
  • Retrievable Anchors
  • Introduction to Swiftwater
  • Canyon Rescue
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Time Commitment/Duration

Moderate–Canyoneering requires a moderate time commitment over a period of approximately 2 months. There are lectures once a week and two weekend field sessions.

Moderate–Canyoneering takes place over a period of  6 weeks and consists of two required weekend sessions.

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Application Process

The application period typically opens in mid-April and is open for two weeks.

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Prerequisites

Participants should be familiar with the basic principles of anchor building, belaying, rappelling, rope management, wilderness navigation, first aid, and also be a competent swimmer. Participants must be able to build an anchor and safely execute a basic rappel without supervision. 

There will be a Skills Screening Day, you will be required to attend one of the two days (5/9 or 5/12, 6-8pm at the Mazama Mountaineering Center).

Required Gear Details

Proper canyon gear and attire will be discussed in much greater detail during the first lecture. At a minimum, students will require:

  • full body wetsuit*
  • harness
  • climbing helmet
  • canyon-specific rappel device**
  • locking carabiners x 4 (screw-lock pear-abiners ideal)
  • prusiks x 2
  • quicklinks x 2 (climbing rated and no larger then 8mm)
  • 30 ft of black webbing (9/16" or 1")
  • backpack: 35-40 liter pack is ideal for day outings; be prepared to help carry the ropes
  • dry bags -OR- a thick compactor garbage bag to line your pack with (protection vs. immersion)
  • quick-dry synthetic clothing
  • rain shell
  • canyon shoes -OR- light hiking boots with decent tread (expect to be hiking in the water)
  • neoprene socks (recommended 5mm) -OR- thick wool socks
  • rappel gloves (cheap leather gardening gloves work well)
  • signaling whistle**

*Full-body wetsuits are required for all students; at least a 4/3, possibly a 5/4 wetsuit if you run cold. Farmer John/Jane style wetsuits and shorties are not permitted.

**Students are required to have a canyon-specific rappel device (ex: CanyonWerks Critr2) and a signaling whistle (ex: Fox 40).